Portrait by Franz Moser
The quiet, subtle cosmopolitan
Deep, multi-layered pictures
Sung Min Kim's paintings are as deep as they have layers. It is fascinating to follow the creation of her paintings over months, countless layers with colours, lines and papers lie there on top of each other. In the case of multi-part works, the parts are also rearranged and rotated again and again. A work goes on like this for several months.
The completed work is a capturing of a flowing process at a moment when it feels finished. Then it is placed in a corner of the studio and after a longer period of time, following an intuition, it is brought out again, some weeks after the last application of paper or paint. When it stands up to its own contemplation, it is finished.
About the Lenten cloth for the parish church of Krumpendorf (Carinthia, Austria) she says in 2020: "I am grateful that the painting decided to be finished in time. Because it's not me as an artist who decides when the painting is finished - but the painting itself decides from its own life and will, when it wants to stop."
Objectively, one certainly does not see all the facets and twists and turns of the months of work in the completed work, but it carries all this within it, and one perceives them intuitively.
Emergence of the pictures with many twists and turns
Inevitably, an image of the Protestant theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer (1906-1945), who was murdered by the National Socialists, comes to my mind. In September 1943, Bonhoeffer wrotes to his bride about human life from his prison cell in Berlin-Tegel:
"How awkard your life-path should now often seem to you. But you also climb a mountain in a zigzag way, otherwise you wouldn't get up there at all, and from the top you can often see quite well why you had to go that way."
With Sung Min Kim, there are no fast, direct paths. It takes time, a lot of time, leisure and meticulous, fine work. Like the man in the image of climbing a mountain for his whole life, Sung Min Kim has no concrete goal - no planned image - in mind at the beginning of the creative process, it emerges in the process, like life in walking.
Lately, Sung Min Kim had documented the stages of the creation of her painting in the same way as a biographical photo album and lets us - the viewers - participate in the exciting, amazing process of the painting "Winter".
South Korea - India - Europe
When you meet Sung Min Kim, you meet a small, lively woman who lives and works with her husband and two children in the north of Vienna. She is anything but conceited or self-absorbed, yet she can look back on an exciting, cosmopolitan biography:
Born in Seoul in 1971, she grew up in South Korea and was trained in Korean painting at Seoul National University after high school. After graduating, she went to India to study Indian philosophy in West Bengal. About her motives for doing so, she said in an interview in 2004: "I did not have great expectations when I came to India. I was not satisfied with the contemporary trends in art, so I wanted to do research in India and discover the value and meaning of art in the new country. I wanted to develop strength in myself, to go further and find out more. Perhaps a little arrogantly, I thought, following others is mental, spiritual laziness."
Later, she shifted to New Delhi and graduated with a degree in art history, specialising in Indian art history. She then held various teaching positions at the university in New Delhi. During this time she also met her husband, who was doing research in religious studies there, and with whom she lives in Vienna since 2006. In 2009, she completed a doctorate in Indian aesthetics at the School of Arts and Aesthetics, Jawaharlal Nehru University in New Delhi.
Deep connection between philosophy and artistic work
Her supervisor, Prof. H.S. Shivaprakash, then Director of the Tagore Centre of the Government of India in Berlin, said at the opening of her solo exhibition "Into the Flowing Formless" at the Bildungshaus St. Hippolyt in 2012:
"At the University of New Delhi, I was the supervisor of Sung Min Kim's dissertation on the Aesthetics of Buddhist mandalas. In it, she develops an aesthetic approach based on the philosophy and spirituality of Kashmiri Shivaism. At first, when I met her, I was sceptical: why does a painter need a doctorate? But when I saw her paintings, I was sure she would manage the theoretical research."
He continued: "I see a deep connection between what she discovers in her philosophical work and her paintings. It is difficult to classify and explain her paintings - at the same time they are easy to take in. They are very simple - but not easy. They are not mimetic, mirror images of the world. Sung Min Kim's painting has deep roots in classical Chinese, Korean and to some extent Indian painting. I appreciate her attitude as a painter, not chasing success, not trying to hold on to the way of painting that has been successful, but searching and moving on in her painterly path."
It's about vibrant life
Talking about her basic impetus and drive of her artistic work and at the same time her inner world, Sung Min Kim says: "I am fundamentally interested in what life is, vibrant life. The theme of life is the centre of my painting. I want to bring vibrations of life onto the canvas. I also see pauses between pulsations more and more clearly. Falling down, darkness or death are also part of my life and painting. There is not only life, there is also death. I wish to be able to see the negative sides of life turned into the positive." She has developed this basic theme in several cycles: "The Eternal Feminine", "Four Seasons", as well as "Love".